Turkey’s mighty Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) used as tool for gov’t favoritism

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu, speaking with Sunday’s Zaman, has commented on the numerous reassignments from the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) to other public bodies, saying: “The ruling party uses the Diyanet as a stepping stone for favoritism in its appointments to public positions. The highest number of appointments is made to the Diyanet. Those who are recruited there are later transferred to other institutions.” 

Noting that an annual average of 10,000 people have been recruited to the Diyanet for the last four years, Tanrıkulu said the Finance Ministry had allocated the highest number of staff positions to the Diyanet when compared with other public institutions, as ordered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Arguing that the Diyanet is being used like a corridor for transfers to other institutions, Tanrıkulu said, “In recent years, the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] has stepped up its favoritist practices and is using the Diyanet as a transit corridor to other public institutions.” 

If the government wants to appoint a branch director, it first sends this director to the Diyanet and then to another institution. In the last four years, 40,000 people have been recruited by the Diyanet. These people begin working at the Diyanet before being transferred to other institutions. In inter-institutional transfers, those coming from the Diyanet are given priority. In this way, the Diyanet has turned into a transit corridor between public institutions.

Tanrıkulu also raised questions about why the Diyanet needed 40,000 new staff members in four years, given the fact that the total number of employees is around 100,000.

Touching on the role of the Finance Ministry in the government’s favoritist practices, Tanrıkulu said: “As the Diyanet staff are systematically reappointed to other institutions, the Finance Ministry allocates new staff to positions in the Diyanet. Otherwise, the Diyanet wouldn’t be eager to send its staff members to other institutions.” 

Answering a parliamentary question addressed to Prime Minister Erdoğan, the Diyanet gave the following information: “During the last four years, about 40,000 people have been recruited to the Diyanet for employment as Quran teachers, imams, preachers and muezzins.

The appointments to our Diyanet are made in compliance with the provisions of the relevant legislation based on the Public Personnel Selection Examination [KPSS] scores, calculated by the Student Selection and Placement Center [ÖSYM], in line with the General Regulations on the Examinations for the Candidates to be Initially Appointed to Public Positions.” 

The Diyanet defiantly argued that the appointments between public institutions are carried out in conformity with Law no. 657 on public servants, saying: “As is the case in any public institution, our Diyanet conducts transactions concerning reappointments to other public institutions as per the provisions of the applicable legislation. Article 74, under the subheading ‘Transfer of public servants from one institution to another,’ of Law no. 657 on public servants, as well as other relevant legislation, enables public servants to request their transfer to other public institutions.” 

Tanrıkulu pointed out that the government often uses temporary employment as part of its favoritist practices. “If it is impossible to recruit people to be on the permanent staff, the government recruits them to temporary staff positions. Then it passes an omnibus bill to give those temporarily employed people permanent staff positions. Then they are transferred to other public institutions,” he explained.

Such a provision can be found in the omnibus bill passed on June 14, 2013. Although thousands of people were on the waiting list to be appointed to various positions based on their KPSS scores, this shortcut to appointment produced many criticisms. However, the government had used this method before, as in the omnibus bill enacted on June 30, 2010. 

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Diyarbakır deputy Altan Tan is among the deputies who have complained about the government’s indifference to parliamentary written questions on the Diyanet.

Arguing that the government has turned the Diyanet into its directorate of political affairs, Tan has told Sunday’s Zaman: “The government is using this institution as tool to hire its supporters and then appoint them to posts in other public institutions. Since these personnel appointments have not been conducted transparently, we do not know the exact details of these appointments from the Diyanet. We do not know how many of the 40,000 Diyanet staff members hired during the last four years have been transferred to other public institutions. Indeed, the parliamentary written questions that were submitted to the Parliament Speaker’s Office on this issue have not been answered appropriately. The Diyanet takes its own path and provides an opportunity for the AK Party government to practice favoritism in its appointments to public positions.” 

Speaking with Sunday’s Zaman, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Ankara deputy Özcan Yeniçeri has criticized the AK Party for making the Diyanet a tool in politics, adding: “The Diyanet has become an AK Party crony. The AK Party first appoints its supporters to various positions in the Diyanet and then transfers them to other public institutions. There have been 40 massive recruitment campaigns for new staff at the Diyanet in the last four years. This is not a normal practice. I have submitted several written parliamentary questions to the Parliament Speaker’s Office to be answered by Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler, who is in charge of religious affairs, on this matter, but none of my written parliamentary questions have been properly answered.”

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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